Dbq: Jacksonian Democracy

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American History Essay


DBQ: Jacksonian Democracy


The following DBQ is based upon the accompanying documents and your knowledge of the time period involved. This question tests your ability to work with historical documents. Your answer should be derived mainly from the documents, however, you may refer to historical facts, materials, and developments NOT mentioned in the documents. You should assess the reliability of the documents as historical sources where relevant to your answer.

To what extent was the Age of Jackson, 1824-1836, an age of triumphant nationalism, an economic evolution (known as the Market Revolution), an age of social perfectionism, cultural romanticism, and at the same time, an era of divisive sectionalism?


  • Formulate a thesis statement

  • Use documents as well as your own outside knowledge of the period.

  • Deal evenly with all aspects of the questions

  • Be sure to cover the time period given

  • Assess the validity of the documents

  • Draw effective and specific conclusions whenever possible


Bailey, Kennedy, & Cohen The American Pageant

Gillon & Matson The American Experiment

Norton, et.al. A People & A Nation

Robert V. Remini Andrew Jackson

Robert V. Remini Hero For An Age

Robert V. Remini Henry Clay

Robert V. Remini Daniel Webster

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. The Age of Jackson

H.W. Brand Andrew Jackson

Document A:
Source: Map which details the geographic results of the election 1828.

Document B:

Source: Richardson, Messages and Papers of the Presidents, III, pp. 1911-1912

Was the spoils system democratic?
There are. . .few men who can for any great length of time enjoy office and power without being more or less under the influence of feelings unfavorable to the faithful discharge of their public duties. . .they are apt to acquire a habit of looking with indifference upon the public interests, and of tolerating conduct from which an unpracticed man would revolt. . .
The duties of all public officers are, or at least admit of being made, so plain and simple that men of intelligence may readily qualify themselves for their performance. And I cannot but believe that more is lost by the long continuance of men in office than is generally gained by their experience. . . In a country where offices are created solely for the benefit of the people, no one man has any more intrinsic right to official station than another. Offices were not established to give support to particular men at the public expense. . .neither appointment to, nor continuance in office is matter of right.

Document C:

Source: James Parton, Life of Andrew Jackson. (New York: Mason Bros, 1861), III, pp.149-150

The most real issue in the presidential contest of 1828 was one which was not stated at the time, nor generally perceived. The question was whether “universal suffrage,” so called, was to have any practical effect in the United States. Down to this period in the history of the republic, the educated few had kept themselves uppermost…
The educated class were not equal to the duty assigned them—that of instructing and guiding their less fortunate countrymen…The scepter was about to be wrested from the hand of those who had now shown themselves worthy to hold it. When they felt it going, however, they made a vigorous clutch, and lost it only after a desperate struggle. In these Jacksonian contests, therefore, we find nearly all the talent, nearly all the learning, nearly all the ancient wealth, nearly all the business activity, nearly all the book-nourished intelligence, nearly all the silver-forked civilization of the country, united in opposition to General Jackson, who represented the country’s untutored instincts.

Document D:
Source: Letter to Judge Brook from Henry Clay, as quoted in Parton, Life of Andrew Jackson. III, p. 594.

. . .I have less confidence than I formerly entertained in the virtue and intelligence of the people, and in the stability of our institutions. . .Are we not governed now and have we not been for some time past pretty much by the will of one man? And do not large masses of the people, perhaps a majority, seem disposed to follow him wherever he leads, through all his inconsistencies. . .when we think that he is ignorant, passionate, hypocritical, corrupt, and easily swayed by the base men who surround him, what can we think of the popular approbation which he receives? One thing only was wanted to complete the public degradation, and that was that he should name his successor.
Document E:
Source: From: Boston Daily Advertiser. September, 1832
Defense of the Bank.

The national bank, though not properly a political institution, is one of the most important and valuable instruments that is used in the practical administration of the government. . .As the fiscal agent of the executive, it has exhibited a remarkable intelligence, efficiency, energy, and above all, independence. This. . .has been its real crime. As the regulator of the currency, it has furnished the country with a safe convenient and copious circulating medium and prevented the mischiefs that would otherwise result from the insecurity of the local banks. As a mere institution for loaning of money, it has been. . .the Providence of the less wealthy sections of the Union. . .Through its dealings in exchange at home and abroad, the bank has materially facilitated the operations of our foreign and domestic trade. The important advantages which have thus been derived from this institution have been unattended by any countervailing evil. As its term advanced, and its officers acquired additional experience it has been constantly gaining on the public favor.

Document F:
Source Andrew Jackson, Veto Message to Congress, Bank Bill, July 1832
Veto of the Bank Bill 1832

The Bank of the United States. . .enjoys. . .a monopoly of. . .favor and support, and, as a necessary consequence, almost a monopoly of the foreign and domestic exchange. The powers, privileges, and favors bestowed upon it in the original charter, by increasing the value of the stock far above its par value, operated as a gratuity of many millions to the stockholders. . .

The modifications of the existing charter proposed by this act are not such, in my view, as make it consistent with the right of the States or the liberties of the people. . .All the objectionable principles of the existing corporation, and most of it odious features, are retained without alleviation. . . Already is almost a third of the stock in foreign hands and not represented in elections. It is constantly passing out of the country, and this act will accelerate its departure. The entire control of the institution would necessarily fall into the hands of a few citizen stockholders. . .
If we can not at once. . .make our Government what it ought to be, we can at least take a stand against all new grants of monopolies and exclusive privileges, against any prostitution of our Government to the advancement of the few at the expense of the many, and in favor of compromise and gradual reform in our code of laws and system of political economy.

Document G:
Source: South Carolina’s Ordinance of Nullification. Statutes at Large of South Carolina. Vol. I, p.329. November 24th, 1832
An Ordinance to Nullify certain acts of the Congress of the United States, purporting to be laws laying duties and imposts on the importation of foreign commodities.
Whereas the Congress of the United States, by various acts, purporting to be acts laying and collecting duties and imposts on foreign imports, but in reality intended for the protection of domestic manufactures, and the giving of bounties to classes and individuals engaged in particular employment’s, at the expense and to the injury and oppression of other classes and individuals, and by wholly exempting from taxation certain commodities, such as are not produced or manufactured in the United States. . . .
We, therefore, the people of the State of South Carolina in Convention assembled, do declare and ordain. . . . That the several acts and parts of acts of the Congress of the United States, purporting to be the laws for the imposing of duties and imposts on the importation of foreign commodities. . . . and, more especially, . . . . [the tariff acts of 1828 and 1832]. . . ., are unauthorized by the Constitution of the United States, and violate the true meaning and intent thereof, and are null, void, and no law, nor binding upon this State, its officers or citizens; and all promises, contracts, and obligations, made or entered into or to be made or entered into, with purpose to secure the duties imposed by said acts. . . .

Document H:

Source: Bailey, Kennedy, & Cohen, The American Pageant. P.258 quoting Andrew Jackson in 1832.
“In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by laws; but when the laws undertake to add to those natural and just advantages artificial distinctions…and exclusive privileges…the humble members of society—the farmers, mechanics, and laborers… have a right to complain of the injustice of their government.”
See also, pp 285-286 for a discussion of Jacksonian Historiography

Document I:
Source: Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. The Age of Jackson. Boston: Little, Brown, 1945. pp. 317-21, 200-201
Power, said the Jacksonians, goes with property.
This was not simply a national movement. It was a movement of all people, everywhere, against their masters, and Jacksonians watched with keen interest the stirring of revolt abroad. Jackson and his cabinet joined in the celebrations in Washington which followed the Revolution of 1830 in France. . . . Democrats followed with similar enthusiasm the progress of the Reform Bill in England,. . . . The Chartist uprisings at the end of the decade were greeted with delight by the Democratic process. . . .

Jacksonians everywhere had this faith in the international significance of their fight. For this reason, as well as from a desire to capture their votes, Democratic leaders made special appeals to newly naturalized citizens. . . .Democrats welcomed the newcomers with open arms. . . . The United States must remain a refuge from tyranny. . . .America was the proving ground of democracy, and it was the mission of American Democrats to exhibit to the world the glories of government by the people.

Jackson himself was a product, rather than the creator, of the new democratic spirit, for he rode into power on a tide of forces that had been gathering strength for more than a decade and which he had done little or nothing to bring into being. It will appear that the new democracy was ‘Jacksonian’ only to the extent that Jackson stamped the political phrase of the movement with the imprint of his personality, lending it certain picturesque characteristics and dramatic qualities.

Document J:
Source: Robert V. Remini, Notes from Summer Institute 1998. Original tapes in possession of John A. Braithwaite, also, quotations documented and confirmed in The Jacksonian Era, Arlington Heights, IL. Davidson Publishers, 1997
“The Age of Jackson was a turbulent era—a period of boom and bust…of institutionalized violence, racial antagonisms, utopian communities, reform movements, and abolitionist crusade…”
“The man who gave the age its name was a self-made planter and slaveholder…”
In politics, however, Remini describes him as “aggressive, dynamic, charismatic, and an intimidating individual. The Jacksonian Revolution moved America toward a more democratic system of government. Jackson played a major and decisive role in the shift toward democracy…”
“Jackson himself was fiercely committed to democracy. And by democracy he meant majoritarian rule. A Hero for the Age.”
“Jackson’s argument for the principle of ‘rotation in office’ was the argument for democracy. Offices exist to serve the people. His commitment to universal manhood suffrage was another manifestation of his belief in democracy and democratic rule.”
“Indeed, Jackson was far ahead of his time in his commitment to popular government. He still is. His ideas probably can never be implemented in a country…(with the) expanse of the United States. In his own lifetime Jackson served more as a symbol of the arrival of democracy…[and more] than a true instigator of its rise to political preeminence.”

Document K:
Source: Robert V. Remini. The Jacksonian Era. Arlington Heights, IL. 1997. pp. 44 & 56.
Andrew Jackson took particular pride in solving—at least to his mind it was a solution—the problem of the Indians. He had long advocated their removal west of the Mississippi River, and it was one of his most cherished goals on becoming President.
The idea of Indian removal goes back several decades and probably originated with Thomas Jefferson. Jackson favored it for several reasons: to protect the American people and provide greater security of the United States; and to prevent the certain annihilation of Indian life and culture that would occur if the tribes were to remain with eastern states.
As to the first option, there were no doubts some Americans at the time who agreed with Henry Clay when he said in 1825 that the disappearance of the Indian “from the human family will be no great loss to the world." But certainly no one in the Jackson administration ever advocated exterminating Native Americans. That was unthinkable. As for assimilation, neither Indians nor whites favored this option. Most, if not all, whites were racists who regarded Indians as inferior. The possibility of miscegenation outraged and frightened them. Nor did Native Americans want to assimilate. They, too, wished to preserve their unique identity as a people. They had their own laws, religion, constitution, society. Assimilation meant becoming cultural white people, and they totally rejected that prospect. The third option, military protection, was an utter impossibility. Considering the greed and avarice with which Americans hungered for Indian land it would have taken an armed force larger than anything available to the government at the time to keep whites out of Indian territory.
Obviously the first three options were unacceptable. The only remaining option, removal, was the one the administration adopted. And, as Jackson repeatedly said, it was the only policy to pursue if Indian tribes and their culture were to survive. Those tribes that did remove exist today, whereas other tribes in the east disappeared. Still it cannot be denied that removal as implemented by the government proved to be a ghastly price to pay for the survival of Native Americans, one that brought perpetual shame to the nation.

Document L:
Source: Map of Cherokee “Trail of Tears” Robert B. Grant. Surveying the Land. P.58.

Document M:
Source: Pictures of Inauguration and The White House

Andrew Jackson's Inauguration, 1829. Painting by Allyn Cox.

Andrew Jackson's Inaugural, 1828. "President's Levee, or all Creation going to the White House" Cruikshank, Robert, 1789-1856, artist.

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